Get a flavour of ‘Pride and Joy’ through these short extracts from the book.
Extract from Chapter one: The journey begins
‘Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start,’ sang Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. And indeed it is. But where do we begin? For creating a family doesn’t begin with an adoption, a birth or even a conception. It starts much earlier than that: in our own upbringing, in society’s ideas of what a parent is or should be, and in the experiences that shape us growing up.
Most of us grew up with heterosexual parents and, regardless of what our families of origin were like, we all grew up surrounded by images of heterosexual families – from children’s books to TV soaps to advertisements for gravy granules. Among this sea of straightness, there may have been only one or two, if any, families with openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans parents. These early experiences shaped our expectations of what parenthood is or isn’t. They formed our impressions of what makes a mother or a father, and our ideas about what is possible for ourselves. If you are LGBT and considering becoming a parent, you’ll examine your assumptions about parenthood and will need to decide which to keep, which to reject and which to give a queer twist and claim as your own. There is no clear, well-trodden path to follow.
Extract from Chapter ten: School’s Out
One way to enable pupils, parents and staff alike to see LGBT parents as positive role models, and members of the school community just like anyone else, is to get in there. There are lots of ways to get involved. Simply express an interest and you’ll be pounced upon. No one’s going to care what you do in bed – as long as you offer to help out with the tombola or volunteer to listen to six-year-olds practicing their reading.
‘Being around at the primary school has been great for visibility of trans people in general,’ believes Susie, whose youngest child is just finishing year six. ‘The parents are the kind of people who wouldn’t want a trans person near their children, yet at school I’m seen as just like any other parent. I volunteer for things at school, I even go in and take photos for them. I think once the “think of the children” angle is dealt with, lots of the concern about trans people fades.’
LGBT teachers can also play a positive role in normalising LGBT people and relationships, if they have support from the school. Naomi is pansexual, and both a parent and a teacher. Like Susie, her presence in the classroom provides an opportunity for conversation and gentle challenge, education in its widest sense, to take place. She remembers one instance: ‘I was working with a group on the computers at school and we saw a story on a news site about the Equal Marriage Act, along with a picture of two men kissing. There were lots of “eurghs” from the boys who saw the picture, but we talked about it and we got past it. Some just didn’t know that two men could get married – and now they do.’
Extract from Chapter eleven: Biology isn’t destiny
When Felix and Evan started thinking about parenthood, it was not clear who would be the biological dad. ‘At the time we assumed we’d get a bunch of eggs and fertilise half each and implant those which worked best,’ says Felix. Nice idea – but it didn’t work out like that. ‘There weren’t enough eggs to do half each, so we had to pick who it would be. We were given five minutes to decide, so we tossed a coin. That was it. We were hoping science would make the decision, but actually it was a ten pence piece.’
The couple decided that the non-bio dad would stay at home with their son in the first few months. ‘It kind of balances it out,’ he explains. ‘There’s a risk for the non-biological parent otherwise that the child is not perceived as your own, and every time he cried I put it down to the fact I wasn’t his biological dad. It was ridiculous.’
Ridiculous, maybe. But hardly unusual. As a non-bio parent, you probably planned the pregnancy together with your partner, witnessed the birth and got to know your baby from their first cry and first cuddle. Yet despite this early bonding, non-bio mums and dads can be secretly worried they won’t feel like a ‘proper parent’ or be recognised as such because they don’t have a genetic connection to their children. ‘It is often insinuated that we should or do have closer bonds with our own birth child,’ says Kim, who gave birth to one of her children and not to the other. ‘But I bonded a lot quicker with my (non-birth) daughter than I did my (birth) son.’ While some parents do feel a closer connection, at least at first, to a biological child than a non-biological one, Kim’s experience contradicts the assumption that genetic bonds are necessarily the strongest.
Hannah and her partner, who chose egg-sharing IVF to start their family, insist that the biggest lesson they’ve learnt on their journey to parenthood is ‘that it is unconditional love that makes family’, rather than how a child is conceived or whether or not there is a biological link between parent and child. But in the back of their minds, they still feel that ‘it is easier for other people to accept us both as our daughter’s mums, because of the roles we both played in her birth. While I grew her in my womb, and I gave birth to her and breastfed her, my wife has the biological connection.’
Extract from Chapter twelve: The gender agenda
‘Growing up in an LGBT family has influenced how I plan to bring up my future children – how could it not?’ says Bryony, who was brought up by lesbian parents and identifies as heterosexual. ‘It’s not just about attitudes towards LGBT people. My upbringing has also influenced how I would wish any children I have to perceive all minority groups. I want them to have the same open-mindedness about gender and sexual identity that I was entrenched in. I worry that my future children won’t have that outlook on life because they will have heterosexual parents, but of course I hope that having homosexual grandparents will still be a big influence on them.’
Like Bryony, Jacob is in his early twenties and hasn’t yet become a parent. He believes that both his experience as the child of a lesbian mother and of growing up as a bisexual man will inform his attitude to parenthood. ‘If I choose to have a family of my own I don’t think it will be until I am quite a lot older – despite my mum being desperate for grandchildren!’ Jacob says. ‘The prospect of having children is quite daunting. Even though I think I would enjoy being a father, I am aware of how stringently gendered childrearing can be and I would have to think about how to raise children without imposing damaging categories of gender on them.’
Jess is a child of lesbian mothers who identifies as a lesbian herself, and is looking forward to one day starting her own family: ‘If you identify as LGBT and are thinking about starting a family but are worried about your child being bullied or being deprived of a biological father or mother… just do it,’ she says firmly. ‘Having experienced this upbringing myself, I cannot wait to start on my own LGBT family – which will not only have lesbian parents but also lesbian grandparents!’
Extract from Chapter fifteen: Staying gay
Pride doesn’t have to be the all-out, thousands-strong, rainbow-coloured extravaganza that it is in the big cities. For parents like 20-year-old Poppy, who live outside the main gay centres of London, Brighton and Manchester, local Prides provide a place of acceptance and friendship, and rare visibility for LGBT relationships in their neighbourhoods. ‘I volunteer for Pride in my town every year,’ she says. ‘There’s a handful of lesbian volunteers; they’re all older than me. I get so much support from being with them, and from straight allies too,’ she explains. ‘I can walk along holding hands with my partner and my son, and no one bats an eyelid. People smile at us as we walk through town, just like we’re normal people, because we are.’
Rebecca’s bi, happily married to a man and has two young daughters, but feels that ‘becoming a parent compounded my lack of visibility as LGBT. People tend to assume I’m straight anyway, and the addition of children just adds another layer of assumptions.’ So being visible at Pride is especially important for her, even if her children are less impressed: ‘I go every year. It’s the one time in the year I’m unambiguously and publicly identifying/identified as queer. I’ve taken my eldest daughter along as a baby, but she’s not that interested in attending now she’s older, despite my attempts to bribe her with a rainbow fairy outfit.’
Dónal’s return to Pride after a 13-year absence, and his discovery of a new group of queer friends and allies came almost by accident. When the Irish government announced that the electorate would have the opportunity to change the Constitution to make marriage genderless, in other words to allow for ‘gay marriage’, he knew he had to get involved in the campaign. He threw himself into the struggle for justice alongside members of LGBT communities, family members of LGBT people and lots of straight allies. The family joined the umbrella organisation Yes Equality and started to canvass in their local area.
‘From the start our kids were involved, and we found a new group of queers of all sexes and gender identities to call friends,’ enthuses Dónal. ‘It’s been wonderful, and to cap it all, the people approved the amendment by a landslide! I was involved in reviving the LGBT Pride march in Dublin in the early 1990s, and look forward to taking part again after such a long time. Now that the Marriage Equality amendment has been carried, the atmosphere will be amazing. This time we’re taking the boys too.’